Planting seeds of eco-schools
Local NGO aims to raise children's eco-awareness
By Vanessa Witenko
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
(August 28, 2002)
With global warming, droughts and floods, a new program has been
launched in the Czech Republic to educate children about the environment.
The program, ARCHA 21, an environmental research program funded
by the German Environment Ministry, seeks to renovate traditional
kindergartens in this country into environmentally friendly ones
and raise ecological awareness in schoolchildren. Currently, one
kindergarten is in the process of being renovated: the 50- student
Materska skola Karafiat in Klatovy, west Bohemia.
The renovation project is being advised by Agentura GAIA, a nongovernmental
organization that combines feminism and environmentalism, and aims
to have kindergarteners take a holistic approach to learning.
According to the ARCHA 21 concept, schools are renovated from traditional
buildings and playgrounds into more natural settings. At Materska
skola Karafiat, instead of swing sets and rectangular sandboxes,
streams will flow through the school grounds beside meadows and
vegetable gardens. There will also be a greenhouse to be used as
a community center, providing the kindergarteners an example of
natural living: The children will learn to grow, cook and eat their
own vegetables. Though the concept counts on eco-friendly buildings
to house the students, this aspect has not been put in place in
the Klatovy school due to budgetary constraints.
The project aims to promote gender equality as well, but as co-
founder of Agentura GAIA Marie Haisova says, this is easier said
than done. "In the Czech Republic, gender is an unknown problem,"
she said. "Many Czechs don't know what this is." She cites
instances while observing children -- the boys eat very quickly
and then go play with toy cars or sit around a table and debate,
whereas the girls eat slowly and then go play with their teacher's
hair. She says the girls should be encouraged to debate and do work
other than the traditional female roles. But since most Czechs do
not understand gender issues, much time must pass before ideas about
feminism are integrated into the curriculum. "The atmosphere
is taboo, even when there are only women," says Haisova.
The ARCHA 21 concept depends heavily on community involvement.
The entire community participates in the building and design process
of the school renovation project. Locals plant trees and participate
in fundraising events.
As for funding, in the case of Materska skola Karafiat, money for
the renovated gardens came from the local budget. However, the idea
of transforming the school building into something greener ran into
difficulty, as this part of the ARCHA 21 project is supposed to
be funded from outside sources. At the moment, according to GAIA,
the NGO is looking for additional funding from businesses and will
be receiving help in the form of a grant from the Dutch Embassy